Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the second reading stage of Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act. Although our party is opposed to the amendments to these two acts, I am pleased to have this opportunity because the issue of housing and social housing is a very important fundamental issue in Canada that affects millions of Canadians and regrettably it rarely gets debated in the House of Commons.
Contrary to what the government member said a few moments ago, the amendments will not in any way improve or increase the supply of affordable, not for profit social housing in Canada. This bill will pave the way for the further privatization of social housing in Canada.
From that point of view this is a very sad day for Canada because historically Canada has played a very positive and innovative role in the provision of social housing right across the country. We have tremendous expertise and skill at a community level in the not for profit housing sector in developing resources and in the construction and development of social housing.
However, all of that has pretty well come to a standstill because of policies implemented by the Liberal government since 1993 to basically trash social housing in Canada. Regrettably the debate today is simply nothing more than one more nail in the coffin of social housing and affordable housing in Canada.
Today in question period I asked the Prime Minister why in a meeting with the mayor of Toronto yesterday about what is a disaster in that city and across the country on homelessness, the Prime Minister had nothing more to offer the mayor of Toronto than a cold beer. There was no offer of funding for social housing. There was no offer of a national action plan for social housing. There was no offer of new social housing units or help for people who are living on the street, and yes, dying on the street as well.
What we heard today from the government was that it is thinking about it, it is studying it and in fact it has already done a lot. The reality is that we have a crisis in this country, not only in the city of Toronto, but in just about every major urban community and in smaller communities as well because the federal government abandoned the provision and the construction of social housing in 1993.
Let us make no mistake about that. There is a direct relationship between increasing homelessness, what we now see, even here in the city of Ottawa, what I see in my own riding of Vancouver East, what I saw in the city of Halifax and in other communities across Canada, and the policy decisions that were made by the finance minister in 1993 to axe social housing.
I want to say that I think it is an absolute disgrace. I think that Canadians understand intuitively that housing is a basic human need. It is a human right that is laid out in the universal declaration of human rights, and yet here in Canada we have no provision to ensure that this basic human need is being met.
I might add that the Toronto disaster relief committee has repeatedly called on the Prime Minister to visit this disaster area to see for himself what is taking place on the streets of Toronto. When I visited the city of Toronto, I visited the emergency shelters and saw the appalling conditions that people are living in. When I talked to people on the street it was really very shocking to learn what people are facing in this country.
The people who form what is called the Toronto disaster relief committee have put together a very urgent call that has actually been endorsed by the 10 big city mayors across Canada, including the mayor of my own city, the city of Vancouver, and the city council. What the Toronto disaster relief committee is calling for is simply this, that there needs to be a 1% commitment to the provision of social housing in Canada by all levels of government.
One would hope and one would have expected that there would be a response from the federal government, that there would be some kind of indication that there is an acknowledgement and a recognition of the disaster that is before us.
One would hope that there would be an acknowledgement of the work that was done on the Golden report in the city of Toronto, which was actually funded by the federal government, and that indeed there would even be some kind of response to that report. There was even a Liberal member on the task force. However, there has been deafening silence on this issue.
We have not seen one cent come forward for the provision of social housing. We had one small announcement saying that there would be additional funds for residential rehabilitation. However, I have to say that the Minister of Public Works, in making that announcement, really was just making a drop in the bucket in terms of the very critical situation that is facing us.
The federal government keeps on telling us that it is no longer in this business. In fact the bill that is before us today to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act is really going further down this path of the federal government offloading and abandoning its responsibility to Canadians in this area. In fact what we have seen is the federal government trying to download and devolve its housing responsibility to the provinces.
I am glad to say that in the province that I come from, British Columbia, we have been resisting this devolution and we have been saying consistently that the federal government has to have a national responsibility for the provision of housing. Yes, there needs to be a partnership with the provinces. Yes, we need to have the involvement of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. In fact the federation is begging the federal government to come back to the table and to get involved.
In my province alone, because of the loss of federal dollars, because of the abandonment of social housing by this Liberal government, we have lost something like 10,000 units that would otherwise have been built if the program, as it existed in 1993, was still in place.
When we add the numbers and multiply them across Canada, on a very conservative estimate we have lost 75,000 social housing units in Canada that would have been built if those programs were still in place.
Today is a very bad day. Instead of facing that reality, instead of taking on the responsibility and saying that we will meet this human need, we will make sure there is adequate, safe, secure, affordable housing for Canadians, what is the federal government doing? It brings in this bill. It claims that this will improve housing for Canadians.
I read the press release from the Minister of Public Works who said that these amendments will better respond to the housing needs of Canadians. Where is the evidence? There is not a shred of evidence to show that will take place if this piece of legislation and these amendments pass.
This legislation is about privatizing the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, privatizing certain provisions of its policies and practices and further commercializing the way CMHC operates.
We had the situation where CMHC insurance and mortgages were guaranteed by the federal government. As a result of very large corporations in the U.S. challenging us under the NAFTA and other international trade provisions, the Liberal government is now capitulating and saying that those types of assurances will no longer be provided. Therefore, people who unfortunately are considered to be high risk by the marketplace and our financial institutions will now be in greater difficulty, even through CMHC, because they will not have the same access they had before.
This is an important debate. We are talking about a very basic issue that does not often arise for debate in this House. I am glad we are debating it. However, I also want to say that we in the New Democratic Party are appalled and outraged that the Liberal government has gone so far from its own platform and commitments.
I can hear the words in my head of a Liberal member of parliament, now the finance minister, who in 1990, as the chair of a Liberal task force on housing, said that it was reprehensible in a society as rich as Canada that we would have an erosion of social housing and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. That is what the finance minister, then an opposition member of parliament, said in 1990.
I say to government members that this bill is not what we need. This piece of legislation is not what Canadians need. We need to be responding to the very dire circumstances of the people who are living and dying on the streets today in Toronto, in my community of Vancouver east and in the downtown east side where 6,000 people are still living in deplorable conditions. These people are living in substandard housing, in rooms that are ten feet by ten feet, with no washroom facilities. They have no cooking facilities and they have to share a broken washroom down the hall with 25 other people. That is what people are facing in this country. It is something that none of us should be tolerating.
We want a response from this government that will improve and make clear that there is a commitment for social housing in this country, that will use the expertise that has been developed at the grassroots level and in the not for profit housing sector and that will encourage the development of co-operative housing in Canada that has been so incredibly successful. Since 1993 no new co-operative housing units have been built. That is absolutely shameful.
We are opposed to these amendments today because they are taking us in the direction of the further privatization of social housing in Canada. The amendments basically undermine the programs we have had in the past and further abandon the federal government's response and responsibility to providing housing for Canadians.
I urge members of this House, particularly Liberal members, to rethink the provisions of the amendments that are before us today. If we are genuine about our care and support for homeless people, for poor people, for people who live in substandard housing and for people who are paying more than 50% of their income for rent, then we should be defeating these amendments. We should be trying to get back to a national housing strategy. We should support the call from the Toronto disaster relief committee for a 1% commitment for social housing in this country.